In Leadership

Uncertain times in business and the world in general can create general unease among employees. However, leaders can provide continuity and familiarity, which can help to lessen the unease. The article below shares how leaders can meet their employees’ needs during challenging times. CK

Article written by Alissa Carpenter originally appeared in Entrepreneur on April 10, 2020.

As our world has been turned upside down, so have our workforces. Now more than ever, employees are looking for things that are familiar, reliable and consistent. According to Gallup, “Global citizens look to leadership to provide a path — and to provide confidence that there is a way forward that they can contribute to.” Unfortunately, that cannot always happen, especially when leadership and organizations don’t have the answers employees are seeking.

But the good news is, there are universal needs that employees look for in a leader during uncertain times. Gallup has identified four specific needs: trust, compassion, stability and hope.

Trust

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships together.” —Stephen R. Covey

Trust is not something you can demand of others. Just because you want to be a trusted leader doesn’t mean that you will be. To put it in perspective, Pew Research Center identified that 81 percent of millennials will not trust you unless you build a relationship with them. And as of 2020, millennials make up about 50 percent of the workforce. That means a large percentage of your employees are not likely to trust you unless you take the time to get to know them. While this may be more difficult during uncertain times, you can start to do this by:

  • Following through on what you say you’re going to do
  • Openly and honestly sharing what you know (and don’t know)
  • Communicating clear goals and expectations for projects while giving employees the space to complete their work
  • Providing the resources and removing barriers for employees as needed

Compassion

At its core, being a compassionate leader means showing that you care about the well-being of your employees. Just because you may not understand what someone on your team is going through doesn’t mean you cannot show compassion. As a leader, it’s essential to acknowledge that these are uncertain times with pressures coming from various directions. Even stating that directly to your team goes a long way as this is not the time to make assumptions.

Show that you’re a real person. If you’re struggling to homeschool your kids while trying to work full-time, share that. If you’re uncomfortable with the uncertainty surrounding the current situation, communicate it. Bring your whole self to your team and conversations moving forward.

If you’re looking to expand on this skill set, try setting up virtual one-on-one meetings (even for 15 minutes) to identify where your employees are and what they need from you. You can have the employee lead the conversation or ask questions like:

  • What resources or tools would be helpful to you and your family at this time?
  • What is something you are struggling with that I may be able to offer support on?
  • What helpful information has our organization provided and what information is missing that I may be able to clarify?

From this information, you can consider:

  • Loaning unused devices (computers, tablets, printers) to staff who are in need
  • Providing childcare credits or stipends
  • Expensing a meal for your team
  • Sending them a gift certificate to a local grocery store
  • Making a connection to someone who can help them work through their “pain point”
  • Adjusting workloads and communicating realistic expectations on current projects

Stability

Last Thursday’s release from the Department of Labor reported 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment in the preceding week, and that number likely skewed lower than reality because many people had difficulties applying. With so many things up in the air, employees want to work for organizations and leaders that can provide stability. While this might not be something you can realistically provide, the communication around this message is crucial. To provide more stability, try:

  • Making your presence known during high-level conversations and sharing any firsthand information directly with your team
  • Standing up for your team and their hard work whenever, and to whomever, you can
  • Identifying alternative projects or assignments that they might be able to support with

Hope

Realistic inspiration is something that we can all use right now. This does not necessarily mean reciting quotes or daily mantras but providing hope that things will eventually improve and that this period is temporary. During times when we don’t have a specific date or idea of when this turnaround will happen, you can provide small bits of inspiration. This can include:

  • Creating and sharing daily encouraging short videos
  • Thanking your team for specific things they are doing well
  • Designating a virtual space for employees to share pictures and videos
  • Acknowledging and celebrating special occasions (births, birthdays, anniversaries)
  • Sharing inspirational stories of hope from around the world
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